Updated: Oct 8
Like many of you, I’ve been watching more TV (documentaries, reality TV, sitcoms, police procedurals of every stripe, every single James Bond film, Criterion editions of Korean horror films, Hitchcock’s silent films, high brow stuff, low brow stuff, stuff in Finnish and German, and everything in between) in the last six months than I’ve probably watched in the last six years combined. And, because I’m a fat academic, I can’t help but to analyze the fat content in ALL THE THINGS. I’ll be honest with you, like my ice cream, I prefer my entertainment to be full-fat. What follows is an idiosyncratic list of random observations I’ve made while watching TV as a fat womxn during the pandemic:
The representation of fat womxn (and I mean a range of fat womxn, not just white womxn who live in small fat land) is piss poor on tv, film, and in other media. And, of the fat womxn that I do see in these spaces, there are limited opportunities to just be a person--not a funny person, not a sad person, not the fat best friend, just a person. Or just a romantic lead who happens to be fat, or just the action hero who happens to be fat, or just the linguist who saves all of humankind who happens to be fat (what if Amy Adams had been fat!?).
The joy I feel when I see a fellow fatty on the screen. Like every other underrepresented group, I’m delighted when I see talented fat womxn on the screen, but I’m also a bit overwhelmed with how pure this joy is and with how much I want and/or need this affirmation. The fact that I will take fat representation in any form is certainly some confirmation of how THIRSTY I am for fat content.
A real lack of any discussion (when there is fat representation) of the day-to-day experiences as a fatty. Where are the discussions about chub rub? Where’s the frank sexy talk about fat doin’ its? Where’s any nuanced discussion about how not all fat is the same? Where’s the excited looks when someone discovers that their Tinder/eharmony/Bumble-whatever date is fat? With the exception of Euphoria and a few other shows there’s very little celebration of the joy in dating/sleeping with/spending time with fat bodies (and the celebration in Euphoria is deeply problematic, but that’s another conversation).
People aren’t fat in the future. You might be chubby (I see you Star Trek: Discovery), but you’re probably not fat fat.
People weren’t fat in the past, unless they were businessmen or sheriffs. Draw your own conclusions.
The more time I spend watching tv with straight size womxn, the worse I feel about myself. In rewatching The Fall I was mesmerized by Gillian Anderson’s thinness, the gorgeous silk garments she wore, the effortless femininity that’s afforded to thin womxn. Never once did I imagine myself as Gillian Anderson.
I’m reminded that even though we know it’s fiction, without representation--and I mean wide representation of fat bodies in a wide range of contexts, it’s hard to feel included in these narratives except as an outside observer. As a fat viewer of film and television that is not size inclusive, I can only identify with straight size characters in the same way I identified with the protagonists in the novels by and about men that I was forced to read in college--namely as an outsider who is expected to understand and empathize with people whose life experiences are nothing like mine. Which leads me to my next observation…
Fat people, like other marginalized groups, are expected to read, understand, take up, and identify with the experiences of thin privilege--especially thin white privilege. I suppose one could argue that if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it, but wouldn’t we all benefit from a bit more diversity in our viewing diets?
There are no fat people in Westerns, unless they’re villains.
There are no fat people in Korea, Finland, France, Spain, or Germany. I know, I’ve watched their police procedurals.
No police detective in any country is fat. Good to have that consistency, I guess.
Being fat predisposes you to being greedy, avaricious, slothful, petty, dumb, cruel, and sad. You don’t have to be any of these things, but you might not be able to help yourself. And, it’s not that thin or straight size people can’t be these things too, but when there are so few examples of fat representation and so much of what’s represented fits into the above clichés, it does feel like the world is telling me something about how it perceives fat folx.
Fat people like to spend a lot of time talking about how they’re fat. Now, you might be thinking, “What does she want? She’s mad when we give her fat people talking about fat stuff like being fat and she’s mad when there are no fat people.” Listen, I’m fat, but outside of these blogs and my scholarship in fat studies and fat activism, I don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about being fat. I mean, if you want to talk to me about being fat, I’m game, but I also want to talk about perfecting my peanut sauce recipe, how cute my cats are, my favorite hiking spots, and the virtues of writing with fountain pens.
Fat people cannot run without being extremely winded. Thin people are natural runners. Tom Cruise has to run with his hands straight like arrows--this has something to do with aerodynamics, I’m sure.
Fat people eat all the time.
Fat people diet all the time.
People are deeply concerned about other people being fat.
I can’t return to shows I thought I loved--Ab Fab, 30 Rock, and Friends, I’m looking at you. All of these shows are deeply fatphobic and, you know, when you know better, you can’t go back.
The devastation I feel when I discover that fat womxn I admire have intentionally lost weight. This is a tricky one. Because, THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME. It’s none of my business. But, but. When I hear people like Rebel Wilson say that she’s been intentionally losing weight so she can play more roles in Hollywood my heart just breaks. It breaks in the way that I mourn for Adele, Oprah, and Melissa McCarthy and all the other womxn who are trying to make themselves smaller for a world that asks for too much. All womxn should do exactly what they want with and to their own bodies--I’m fully down with body autonomy, but I wonder if this becomes more complex when you’re in the public eye.
If you can name exceptions to the above observations, you’ve made my point. Return to observation #1.